An interview with Swallows and Amazons Director Pieter Lawman

Our Christmas family musical Swallows and Amazons has set sail across the wild seas towards Wild Cat Island and our Theatre stage. But before it left port (aka the rehearsal room) we caught up with Revival Director Pieter Lawman to discover the driving force behind this memorable production and why it is inspiring imaginations.

Revival Director Pieter Lawman - Photography by Chris Cooper

Revival Director Pieter Lawman – Photography by Chris Cooper

What do you want audiences to take away from Swallows and Amazons?

It’s a Christmas show so you want people to come away warmed and entertained, having had a wonderful evening with their family. For a lot of people, it’s the only time of year that they come to the theatre so ultimately I want people to come away having had an amazing and fun evening out.

It’s a reflective piece about what it is to be a child, and to play as a child. If we can allow people two and a half hours of time to think about that then they might come away thinking about their own life slightly differently.

The production evokes feelings of nostalgia in many, has working on the show brought back memories of your childhood?

I grew up in a tiny little village in Leicestershire. And we really did run around in fields and play until the sun went down and that’s when we went home for dinner. Your neighbours children would knock on the door in the morning and you’d go out and play, go on bike rides from village to village, made sports and games and events. And I look back on all that very fondly, that freedom just to go and get lost and get scruffy and make up games.

In the show the children sail off to an island on their own and this is based on a real set of children who did that and you have to question whether that would happen today. Perhaps not, but maybe we can bring them up in a way that leads more towards that. That sense of freedom and imagination and play.

The Swallows and the Amazons have vivid imaginations – how does imaginative play inform the decisions you make in the rehearsal room?

It goes back to Tom Morris, the director of the original 2010 production, who has a phrase that ‘the den making instinct never dies’… and I know what he means. Children quite easily will pull a sheet over their head and be in a space ship, or a tent, or under their tent and hiding from monsters. I fully agree with Tom that deep down, as grown-ups, we all still want to do that. We love it.

There’s a great quote from a hard-core American rapper who says “I don’t care who you are, when a child gives you a toy telephone, you answer it.” You can’t deny that. Children buy into this world, and as adults we want to as well.

As adults imaginative play is something we still desperately want in our lives. I think one of the reasons why we get into box sets and watch four episodes of Breaking Bad in a row is because you want to immerse yourself in that world. You don’t want to switch off and watch one episode in bite-size chunks and move on with your real life. You can allow yourself to get into that world – I think that goes back to our childhood need for imagination.

What has been your favourite moment in the production?

My favourite scene is where the Swallows and the Amazons first meet. I think it goes through a wild journey, it’s very funny and very tense, there’s some lovely theatricality to it. Up to this moment things have been quite fast paced, we’ve met the boat Swallow, they’ve been sailing, there have been lots of fun theatricalities with telescopes but this scene is the first time in the show where we really find out who these characters are and how they feel about each other.

Are you a Swallow or an Amazons?

Ooh that’s mean! I think I would like to be an Amazon – but I think I’m a Swallow.

What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?

I like Christmas shopping for other people. I like spending a weekend on my own, window shopping and looking at all the Christmas lights…that’s a terrible answer. I like being with my family! It’s so rare that I get time off at Christmas to spend time with them – so not shopping, being with my family.

Swallows and Amazons is showing until Saturday 17 January. Tickets and information here.

Swallows and Amazons
27 Nov 2014-17 Jan 2015

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